Bored and broke, Brian Teate had driven to Chantry Flats in hopes of salvaging his Saturday night.
Just above the communities of Sierra Madre and Arcadia, at the entrance to the Angeles National Forest, Chantry Flats offers a breathtaking view of the San Gabriel Valley at night and serves as a departure point for daytime hikes to area waterfalls and swimming holes.
But Teate and other youths have come to know it for a different, less pristine, allure. On weekends, late-night parties complete with alcohol and stereos blasting Ozzy Osbourne and Led Zeppelin music erupt spontaneously along the county road ascending to the flats and in a parking lot at the road's end.
"We listen to music, sit on the rocks, drink beer and talk," said Teate, who had driven up with two friends last Saturday night. "What's the harm in that?"
Once considered a "lover's lane" or an "inspiration point," Chantry Flats in more recent years has attracted a growing number of teen-agers and young adults seeking refuge from parents and police. They converge on the mountain every weekend, 20 to 30 cars containing 50 to 75 people. During warm summer nights, it's not unusual for 150 to 200 of them to party late into the night along such turnouts as Rendezvous Overlook, which they call simply "The Rocks."
Residents who live in the $400,000 homes at the base of the mountain in Sierra Madre say the mix of alcohol, drugs and twisting road is a deadly one. They count seven serious accidents in their residential neighborhood in the past three months alone, all involving young drivers who had used alcohol or drugs at Chantry Flats.
Cabin owners who spend their weekends in the mountain complain of drunk teen-agers throwing bottles, setting off fireworks and brawling.
Although officials of the Sheriff's Department deny that the area has become a haven for hard drugs or violent crime, they acknowledge their inability to cope with an increase in vandalism and alcohol- and drug-related accidents. They say they lack the manpower to patrol the area and ensure that Chantry Flats, which is supposed to be closed from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., is swept clean each night of partying youths.
And a solution is complicated by geography and a strange quirk of jurisdiction. Santa Anita Avenue, the road leading to Chantry Flats, winds through Sierra Madre, Arcadia and Monrovia before ending up in a designated federal area.
The police departments of those three cities, the California Highway Patrol and the U.S. Forest Service all oversee varying parts of the mountain and must coordinate their efforts with sheriff's deputies, who bear the brunt of the responsibility.
Last weekend, deputies reported arresting nine adults and eight juveniles for crimes ranging from driving while intoxicated to possession of cocaine and a stolen vehicle.
"We're not going up there on numerous stabbings or shootings," said Lt. Tom Johnston of the Temple City sheriff's substation, which oversees the area. "Mostly, it's a situation of kids being kids. We just have to protect them from themselves."
Game of Cat and Mouse
Johnston described a frustrating game of cat and mouse with partying youth who use citizens band radios and lookouts to warn of police patrols working their way up the mountain.
"They always seem to be driving down the hill as we're coming up," he said. "They'll wait until we leave and they drive right back up."
Jody and Dennis Lonergan, who own a pack station that sells foodstuffs and other supplies at Chantry Flats and live in an adjacent home, say attempts by Arcadia police to patrol a popular gathering spot on the the lower half of the mountain have only pushed the problem into their backyard.
"We have been threatened with bodily harm for suggesting that they take their music and beer down the road so we can get some sleep," said Jody Lonergan, 31.
"We're not conservative folks. We like to enjoy ourselves. But the problem has just gotten out of hand in the past three years. On Valentine's Day, we had a kid stabbed up here."
In January, 20 frustrated homeowners formed Citizens for a Safer Sierra Madre to spearhead a drive to enforce the 10 p.m.-6 a.m. closure at Chantry Flats by installing a new gate at the base of the mountain, where the residential area ends.
The group cites the recent nighttime closure of Chaney Trail in Altadena and Glendora Mountain Road in Glendora, among others, as precedents for the move. Over the past two months, the group has gotten 700 residents to sign a petition in support of its effort and has made presentations before elected officials in Sierra Madre and Arcadia.
George Salisbury, the group's vice president, whose efforts to close the road four years ago were unsuccessful, said he is taking no chances this time. He has written a letter to Supervisor Mike Antonovich, whose district includes Chantry Flats, and threatened to stage television "media events" if his office did not respond to the problem.